Next on our food odyssey we follow the Mississippi south the Gulf of Mexico, and to the city of New Orleans.

I spent an extremely pleasant summer here in the year 2000. We’d all recovered from the Millennium Bug and the prospect of the ‘noughties’ seemed strange but filled with promise.

I was working at the time for the Technicolour Film Studio at the time, and post production on a number of large cinematic releases had been moved to a series of grim warehouses on the dockside. Where better to handle specialist work on a number of multi-million pound movie projects, than in previously derelict wharf side buildings, in a part of the deep south that regularly sees such structure lifted by hurricanes and dumped into the ocean.

The downtown of the crescent city is split into two – the business district with its skyscrapers regularly disgorging men in suits and ten-gallon hats, and the French Quarter famous for mardi-gras, fin de siècle architecture and tourist shops selling voodoo effigies to credulous tourists from the Midwest.

Each evening, fantastically fortunate chap that I am, I left my hotel on Canal Street and wandered into the French Quarter. Immediately you join the nightly promenade of drunk spring breakers, wide-eyed tourists, technicolour revellers draped in beads and shady looking types picking their teeth with switchblades that make up the foot traffic through this network of streets – down Bourbon, down Magazine, Royal, Jackson Square, then Dauphine. I’d tuck a paperback under my arm, find a table on my own somewhere new, and eat the best that this fantastically tasty part of the United States could ladle into a bowl.

If you’re lucky enough to make it to Nawlins (save face immediately and pronounce it correctly) then some advice below as to what to eat and drink, and most crucially, what not to eat or drink.

Preservation Hall

Not a restaurant or a bar, but the best live music venue I’ve been to. It’s a semi derelict house hosting concerts nightly by performers who shared the stage with Hendrix at Woodstock. There’s no bar and no seats, so set yourself up beforehand with a Sazerac cocktail from The Old Absinth House. Rye whisky, absinth, sugar and bitters, it’s a nights drinking in one glass and the perfect NOLA drink. Ignore those who encourage you to try a ‘Hurricane’ (typically the cocktail most associated with this part of the world) – it’s perfectly disgusting and fit only for teenagers with little or no plans the next day.


Ordering food at Coop’s with a home counties accent was initially a challenge. Firstly, nothing I said was understood. Then I managed to get a drinks order in. But bizarrely the reasonably simple words ‘gumbo’ or ‘jambalaya’ somehow never were understood, until I learned to affect a thick NOLA accent at which point all became clear. Naturally, when you are as skilled in the culinary arts as these folks, being bloody minded comes just as easily.

Still, it doesn’t matter. Gumbo this good is worth the cranky service. Thick stews based on okra, celery, rice, thick gravy, and then seafood, meat, rabbit, oyster or chicken. All served steaming with rice, bread and if you’re lucky some local wine grown on what were cotton plantation near the University District.

The Commander’s Palace

Off to the Garden District for a visit to this legendary restaurant and bar. Famous for its jade and white candy stripes, every famous Southern Chef has at one point held court from its kitchen.

But as we all know, eating is cheating, and so we’re less interested in cutlery and more with cocktail sticks.

Commanders are known for serving a very acceptable Brandy Milk Punch – brandy, syrup, vanilla, cream, nutmeg, and crushed ice. Be sure to take time while you’re in the garden district to visit some of the palatial home once owned by the plantation owners of the deep south. You’ll need to walk off some of that cream, before heading back into the French Quarter for another NOLA classic.


The Carpenters told us that Joe had to pole the pirogue down the bayou. For those who don’t speak Creole, Joe wanted to sail his crude canoe home along the swamp. Fortunately for Joe, his labours would be rewarded with Jambalaya, crawfish pie, or fillet gumbo once he got back indoors (not something necessarily guaranteed due to the frequency of alligator attacks in the bayou)

Jambalaya is another dish, like gumbo, that has more of a concept rather than a strict recipe. Broadly speaking it’s a mix of protein with rice, similar to a jollof or even a paella (many stories say that jambalaya came about as the Spanish tried to recreate paella in the New World). Creole influences often introduce snapping turtle, alligator, boar or shrimp, whereas Cajun might use smoked venison, pork or duck. Either way, it’s slow cooked with celery, bell peppers, onion, smoked sausage, tomatoes and mountains of spices.

Mothers Restaurant on Poydras Street (it’s actually on Tchoupitoulas street, but you try pronouncing that street right to a taxi driver first time around) is the best place for jambalaya. Enjoy with an Abita beer and return for one of their famous po boy sandwiches (invented here as a cheap ‘poor boy’ lunch for workers during municipal strikes in the 1940’s)

French 75

It’s hard to talk about New Orleans without talking about Hurricane Katrina. In August 2005 this category 5 storm tore through New Orleans, overwhelming the utterly inadequate flood defences, killing 1800 people and causing 125 billion dollars’ worth of damage to the city and surrounding areas. As the city struggled to get back on its feet, one restaurant on Bienville Street in the French Quarter, opened before all others to deliver it’s classic Creole menu to a city battling to come to terms with the devastation around them.

Turtle soup, oysters Bienville, shrimp Creole and frogs’ legs serve both as a reminder to the legacy of the French in this distinctly southern enclave of Louisiana, and at a time when the pleasures of dining out seemed unthinkable, food such as this raised the spirits of a city on the brink of collapse and helped to bring smiles back to faces.

Few drinks have a history as plagued with legend and misinformation as that of the French 75. Named after the 75mm French field canon from WW1 (both so potent they will knock you flat) this drink became a mainstay on sophisticated menus the world over. Arnaud’s on Bienville, rightly commemorate its roots in the crescent city.

Cognac, sugar, lemon juice and champagne, served in a flute, and ideally drunk on a Sunday to the accompaniment of the local street jazz floating up from corner of Dauphine Street to the north. One of the world’s all-time great drinking experiences.